Kendal – Gawith Snuff Works
The Gawith Snuff Works are located down the bottom of Lowther Street, in a row of buildings dating from 1782. Thomas Harrison started manufacturing snuff from these buildings in 1792. He had moved to Glasgow to investigate the commercial potential of snuff manufacturing and to learn how to make snuff. He returned to Kendal with the knowledge, and a collection of 50 tons of machinery that would enable him to begin his enterprise.
He set up originally in a mill on the banks of the River Mint at Mealbank. These buildings have long since disappeared, but some of the machinery he used (manufactured in the 1750’s) survives, and is still used on a daily basis at the Brown House site near Canal Head in Kendal. These are perhaps some of the oldest industrial machinery parts still in day to day operation!!!
Harrison joined forces with local chemist Thomas Brocklebank. It was probably a partnership made in heaven, with Harrison producing snuff, and Brocklebank selling it.
Thomas Harrison’s son (also called Thomas) took over the business when his father died, moving production to Lowther Street in around 1830.
Harrison’s daughter Jane married into the Gawith family, marrying Samuel Gawith in 1838, the connection with that side of the snuff business empire thus beginning. Thomas Harris died in 1841, and left the premises on Lowther street and his share in Harrison and Brocklebank to Jane and her sister Ann. Jane and her husband moved to Lowther street, both becoming more and more involved in the snuff business from then on.
Thomas Brocklebank died in the 1840’s, with Ann Harrison following in 1852. The whole of the business then fell under the control of Samuel Gawith.
Gawith served a number of years as a councillor, and in 1864 became mayor of Kendal. In 1865, he died, and left the business in the hands of trustees. Both he and his wife Ann are buried in the cemetery on Castle Street.
The three trustees were Samuel Gawith, the surviving son of the now deceased owner, Henry Hogarth and John Illingworth. Samuel’s younger brother, John-Edward, was also involved in the running of the company by this stage. By 1867, John Illingworth had left the company and set up on his own. His business was burned to the ground in the 1980’s and ceased to be when it was purchased by another snuff makers.
In 1878, the two brothers decided that they no longer wished to work together, and embarked on a split. The premises at Meal bank and Lowther street would be separated and Samuel would have first choice in which of the sites he would like to operate from. He chose the mill at Meal Bank, leaving Lowther street to his brother.
Samuel concentrated on snuff production at the site at Meal Bank, and John-Edward concentrated on tobacco production at the site down Lowther Street. Unfortunately, John-Edward went bankrupt in 1885, and Samuel bought all of his trademarks and equipment, and managed to continue production of tobacco and snuff at both sites in the town.
Samuel died in 1886, and the company was once again placed in the hands of trustees. It wasn’t until 1904, that his son, also called Samuel took the reigns of the company, seeing its fortunes increase during the war years.
The company continues to this day, as Gawith Hoggarth and company, with offices down Lowther street with the Turk sign posted on the wall above the main entrance to the offices.
The company produces in the region 15 types of pipe tobacco, and around 54 varieties of snuff, all of which are sold through distributers in the UK, the USA, Mexico and throughout Europe. The sweet smell of tobacco is a familiar smell for those who regularly walk down Lowther street and work there, even today.
Words and photos by Matthew Emmott.
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